Updated Oct. 1, 1 p.m. EDT: After the fallout for his racially charged comic, Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert went on Boston Herald Radio to apologize and clear the air. “I want to apologize to anyone I offended who was hurt by the cartoon,” Holbert said. “It was certainly, absolutely, not my intention.”
Holbert explained that the toothpaste flavor was inspired by Colgate’s watermelon toothpaste for kids that he came across in his bathroom. “I was completely naive or innocent to any racial suggestion,” he insisted. “I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.”
Another version of the comic that popped up in some newspapers, touting a new “raspberry” flavor, was prompted by his national syndicate’s demand for the change, which left him “confused.”
“I didn’t think people thought like this anymore. I didn’t think of it at all when I did the cartoon. It was completely innocent,” Holbert added.
The Herald has added its voice to the apology, although the paper stood by its cartoonist, saying that he had the “utmost integrity.”
“As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize. His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful,” the statement, provided to The Root, read. “We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity.”
All eyes are on the Secret Service and its handling of the nation’s most important authority figure (i.e., President Barack Obama), and naturally the irreverent jokes, the scathing criticism and crucial questions are coming out.
However, the folks at the Boston Herald may have gone a little too far when an editorial cartoon published Wednesday included what many people consider to be a racist stereotype regarding black people: the notorious watermelon reference.
In the cartoon, an intruder can be seen bathing in the presidential tub. He asks a big-eared Obama, who is brushing his teeth, if he’s tried the new “watermelon flavored toothpaste."
It doesn’t take more than a Google search (or basic common knowledge of history and racial stereotypes) to know that the “watermelon” reference isn’t usually welcome when talking about African Americans, harkening back to a time when endorsers of slavery claimed that African Americans could be kept happy if they were given a little watermelon, for which they supposedly had an insatiable appetite.
Twitter users were quick to catch the faux pas, calling out the Herald on the cartoon. Reports also pointed to another version of the cartoon, which referenced “raspberry-flavored” toothpaste, which makes the watermelon choice even more curious.